The average price of regular gasoline in the U.S. is $3.50 per gallon. That's the figure that the U.S. Energy Information Administration provided on Oct. 7, 2013.
Approximately two-thirds of that price is due to the cost of crude oil. If fuel came from a less precious resource, such as sewage or sawdust, motorists would almost certainly see lower prices at the pump.
We're not there yet, but the capability already exists to turn several everyday resources into a component of fuel. Many of these resources may in fact be sitting in your garbage can, in an office recycling bin or in a city landfill at this moment.
Read ahead and see what substances that we take for granted today can be turned into the automotive fuel of tomorrow.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 10 Oct. 2013
Tune in to the new season of "The Car Chasers" on CNBC Prime, premiering Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
According to Discovery News, corn is the largest source of biofuel in the U.S. today. Unfortunately, it's expensive to process, so it would carry high costs at the pump.
Corn is used in the creation of ethanol, an alcohol fuel. It derives from the sugars found in the grain, and all sugar crops can be fermented to produce it, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Gasoline that derives from wood waste may sound like a fantasy, but in 2009 a University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor named George Huber made it happen. According to The Boston Globe, Huber had his students load sawdust into one end of a complex contraption that he had invented, and moments later, a brown liquid that he called "grassoline" dripped out of the other side. That means that someday, the dumpster behind Home Depot could yield a treasure trove of energy independence.
Creating fuel from wood isn't just for the universities. Beaver Energy is a company that researches and develops alternative fuels, and has made a wood-powered car, a 1988 Isuzu Trooper with an engine that runs on wood chips. According to the company's website, it can go "20 miles on 25 pounds of wood chips," and it can be seen in this YouTube video.
French fries may be bad for you, but you can always justify eating them by saying that you're doing it for the environment. The cooking oil in which they're fried is a component of biodiesel, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration says "produces lower levels of most air pollutants than petroleum-based products."
In 2009, a student research project at New York University studied the conversion of fryer oil from the school's own cafeterias into biodiesel. It found that "the percentage of biodiesel that can be produced from the fryer oil is approximately 75 percent."
On Sept. 30, 2013, The Minnesota State Register reported that the state's Pollution Control Agency and its Departments of Agriculture and Commerce had announced a move to a B10 biodiesel mandate, meaning that every gallon of diesel sold in the state had to be 10 percent biodiesel
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association supported this move wholeheartedly. After all, soybeans are a popular component in biodiesel production, thanks to an easily performed organic chemistry process called transesterification. This process is also used in the synthesis of polyester.
Hemp isn't just for smoking while you listen to side three of the Allman Brothers' "Eat a Peach" album. Strains with low to nonexistent tetrahydrocannabinol content are already used in food, wax, rope, paper and a vast array of everyday products too numerous to count.
According to the automotive website Edmunds.com, it can also be used in the creation of biodiesel. It follows the same principle as corn and soybeans, and its seeds and stalks can be fermented to produce ethanol.
For decades, intrepid inventors have dreamed of turning waste into fuel, but two factors seemed insurmountable—pollution and cost. Burning trash sends toxins into the air, and the costs associated with building the facilities are high. However, a company called Sierra Energy may have figured out a way to make this dream a cost-effective and environmentally friendly reality.
The company has created the FastOx Pathfinder, which The New York Times described as "a waste gasifier that's about the size of a shower stall ... essentially a modified blast furnace." It subjects random and assorted trash to extreme high temperatures without actually burning it, and creates a synthetic gas comprised of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
One of the problems faced by biofuel sources is that they have to compete with agricultural crops for land. Algae grows in water, so it doesn't have to contend with this problem. It also grows very quickly, so it can meet high demand if necessary.
In June 2013, Evie Sobczak, a teenaged student at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Fla., made an algae-to-fuel project that won first prize at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. "All these Floridians think that algae is bad because it causes red tide," she told the Tampa Bay Times. "But it can be used as a positive to help our environment and our economy."
According to Discovery News, sugarcane is second only to corn as the most commonly used source of biofuel in the world today. Unlike other sources of fuel that are still finding their way in the marketplace, ethanol made from sugarcane is in such wide use in Brazil that the nation is now energy independent.
Demand for ethanol deriving from sugarcane is expected to rise, according to Bloomberg News. Brazil is expected to export more than 1 billion gallons of it into the U.S. during the 2013-2014 harvest season to meet demand.
Canola oil, a source of biofuel that's inexpensive to produce and which burns cleaner than petroleum, has been the ideal biodiesel source for the European Union. The European Commission's 2009 Renewable Energy Directive stated that all biodiesels used in the EU for transport were required to produce 35 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, and fuel produced with canola oil fits the bill.
After 2017, this may no longer be the case. At that time, biodiesels will be required to produce at least 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. The Renewable Energy Directive states that biodiesel derived from canola oil only provides savings of 45 percent at best. Time will tell how this will affect demand for the fuel.
Right at this very moment, your body is crawling with bacteria. Though many people associate these microscopic organisms with disease, human beings coexist with them to no ill effect all the time. According to Edmunds.com, they can also be used to create fuel, although that's a process that's still very much in the development phase.
According to the website, microbiologists are currently hard at work developing a genetic engineering formula to make bacteria create output that's chemically identical to crude oil. They're not there yet, but when the day finally comes, it will mean the creation of a crude oil that can be acquired without drilling.
Jeff Allen and Perry Barndt are gamblers—their game being classic and exotic cars. They travel the country looking to buy and sell them. Whether it's a rare Shelby Mustang or a vintage hot rod, the key is buy low and sell high, something that doesn't always happen.
Selling cars is a dangerous business, but perhaps there's no greater risk than negotiating with your own father. Tom Souter, Jeff's dad, runs a classic car dealership around the corner from Jeff's shop in Lubbock, Texas. They are not just regular trading partners; they are trading partners hell-bent on one-upmanship. Tom said doing a deal with his son is like being locked in a closet with a porcupine: "It's gonna hurt, but you know it won't kill you."
Tune in to "The Car Chasers" on CNBC Prime, Premiering Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.